Famed boxing promoter Bob Arum has been a well-known adversary of MMA for ages, but he was singing a different tune Thursday.
The Top Rank CEO was in Los Angeles as part of a press conference for Saturday’s WBO junior lightweight title fight between reigning champ Vasyl Lomachenko and challenger Miguel Marriaga. When asked how Marriaga’s toughness was highlighted in a recent decision loss to Oscar Valdez, Arum admitted that the sport of boxing could draw inspiration from the UFC when it comes to promoting fighters even in defeat.
“UFC has taught us that a loss is not a death sentence,” Arum said. “If a guy loses a fight, but he loses heroically, and he gives 100-percent, people want to see him fight again and you can bring him back again.
“(Marriaga) lost the fight to Valdez, but he fought a very, very courageous fight, right? So now when you’re looking for somebody to put in with Vasyl Lomachenko, you remember the performance that he had. Now he didn’t get the decision against Valdez, but everybody gave him the props for a great performance. And that’s what we’ve got to do more and more in boxing. We cannot write fighters off because they lose a fight.”
Arum hasn’t always had such kind words for the UFC. Back in 2009, he memorably told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani that MMA only appealed to a fanbase composed of “a bunch of skinhead white guys” and that the in-cage action was akin to “guys rolling around like homosexuals.”
More recently, the 84-year-old executive was heavily critical of the UFC after two of the company’s biggest stars, Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar, failed drug tests last July. Arum also accused the promotion of using bribery to avoid having to adhere to the Muhammad Ali Act, to which UFC president Dana White responded by calling Arum “the biggest dirtbag in all of sports.”
Arum might not be sitting cageside anytime soon, but he is clearly starting to see the virtues of a property that was purchased by WME-IMG last year for over $4 billion. One other aspect of the UFC’s business that Arum expressed an admiration for was the role it played in building Ronda Rousey’s superstar profile.
U.S. Olympian Mikaela Meyer makes her professional boxing debut on Saturday’s undercard, and Arum credited the UFC with opening the door for female fighters to become household names.
“I really think that she has the goods, that she will be able to help us bring women boxing to the fore,” said Arum. “I really want to acknowledge the debt that we owe to UFC because they took this Ronda Rousey and they made her into a tremendous star. She ended up becoming the biggest pay-per-view star that they had and if they could do it with Ronda Rousey, we believe we can do it with Mikaela.”
It sounds like Arum is ready to approach fight promotion from new angles, ones that he may not have considered were it not for the UFC’s dedication to rewarding gutsy performances and showmanship as much as win-loss records.
“It’s a new era you’re seeing,” said Arum. “You’re seeing the start of what boxing should be and what boxing will become, and it’s like deja vu all over again, because that’s what we had when I remember back in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Guys fought and if they fought well, you brought them back.”
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